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Dixon Brothers
WBT Charlotte, NC
WPTF Raleigh, NC

About The Group

The Dixon Brothers (Dorsey (B: October 14, 1897 — D: April 18, 1968) and Howard (B: June 19, 1903 — D: March 24, 1961) — were products of the Carolina Piedmont textile mill culture.

Dorsey played guitar and Howard played guitar in the Hawaiian guitar style or steel guitar (but not electric). Dorsey was a gifted songwriter. Their somewhat rough duet-style was nonetheless appealing and they recorded more than fifty numbers for RCA Victor's Bluebird label from 1936 until 1938 (some were released only on Montgomery Ward).

They were popular enough to have related spin-off duets as Dorsey and his often estranged wife Beatrice (B: February 22, 1912 — D: November 4, 1988) put a dozen numbers on wax and Howard and fellow mill worker (Joe) Frank Gerald (B: January 25, 1915 — D: October 17, 1983) cut even more numbers under the name The Rambling Duet. Later, somewhat disillusioned with the music business, returned to mill work. In later life, Dorsey did record again and found a new, if limited interest in his music. And from 1946, he received royalties for his classic country original "Wreck on the Highway."

Both Dixon's were born in Darlington, South Carolina where their parents were mill workers. After some years of moving from one mill job to another, they both settled in East Rockingham, North Carolina in the mid-1920's. In those days, they played mostly for their own amusement or in churches. Later, Dorsey often composed poems which were sometimes reprinted in the local newspaper. His first was apparently a memorial to a tragic fire at a school in Cleveland, South Carolina.

The Dixon Brothers began to attract wider attention from 1932 when they first developed their rough but appealing duet style accompanied by Dorsey on guitar and Howard on acoustic Hawaiian guitar. Their style was inspired by Columbia-Victor recording artist Jimmie Tarlton.

In 1934 they began to make periodic appearances on the barn dance sponsored by Crazy Water Crystals over WBT Charlotte. Later they also appeared on WPTF Raleigh. For a few months they may have even have left cotton mill work but gave it up when one of Dorsey's children became quite ill and he returned to East Rockingham and the Hannah-Pickett Mills.

Their radio career may have been pretty much over when they began recording for Bluebird in February 1936. They cut their first six songs which included "The Intoxicated Rat," "Weaver Room Blues," and "Two Little Rosebuds," a number about two girls who drowned in a millpond. From then until September 1938, they cut about 88 numbers that were eventually released including a dozen by Dorsey and Beatrice, and twenty by the Rambling Duet. On a few of the Brothers songs, and a few by the Rambling Duet, another musician James Mirtz "Old Mutt" Evans (1913-1979) helped out on guitar and vocals.

The better selling Dixon discs seemed to have sold in the 20,000 range while a few of those released only Montgomery Ward may have sold only a few hundred. Later Dixon songs that have attracted considerable attention included "The Old Home Brew," "Down with the Old Canoe" (about the Titanic), "Weaver's Life Is Like An Engine" (a song of Dorsey's that Tarlton recorded in 1932), and "I Didn't Hear Anybody Pray," later known as "Wreck on the Highway."

After their Victor contract expired, Dorsey, learning that he had been ill-treated by record producers and others in dealing with copyrights, became disillusioned and quit music except for in church and among friends and family. Howard worked for a few months at WWNC Asheville for Wade Mainer and with the onset of World War II also returned to mill work. From about 1950 he played and sang in a local sacred quartet called the Reaping Harvesters. Dorsey retired on Social Security Disability in 1953 and spent many years feeling distressed and thinking his life a failure although he kept composing poems. His religious faith seemed the only thing that kept him going.

In the summer of 1960 he received a spiritual uplift when contacted by Australian record collector John Edwards (namesake of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation) and even talked about reviving the Dixon Brothers act although Howard thought it futile. Then Edwards died in a car wreck on Christmas Eve and then Howard died of a heart attack. Two Edwards protégés Eugene Earle and Archie Green made contact and recorded Dorsey, songs that appeared on the album Babies in the Mill (Testament T-3301). He then did a few solo concerts at colleges and the Newport Folk Festival.

In 1964, Dixon suffered a heart attack and spent his last years with his minister son and family in Plant City, Florida. A trusting soul, he continued correspondence with fans (me (Ivan Tribe) included) and would loan reel to reel tapes containing most of his old recordings as well as Darby & Tarlton to hear and copy and then return them.

Another heart attack in the spring of 1968 proved fatal.

Bluebird B-6327-B - Intoxicated Rat - Dixon Brothers - February 1936

Credits & Sources

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  6327 A Intoxicated Rat
  6327 B Sales Tax On the Women
  6441 A Weave Room Blues
  6441 B Two Little Rosebuds
  6462 A Greenback Dollar Part 2
  6462 B Answer to Maple On The Hill
  6582 A My Girl in Sunny Tennessee
  6582 B That Old Vacant Chair
  6630 A White Flower For You
  6630 B That Nasty Swing
  6691 A I'm Just Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail
  6691 B Hush Little Bonnie Blue Eyes Part 2
  6809 A Rambling Gambler
  6809 B Dark Eyes
  6867 A Maple On The Hill No. 4
  6867 B The Old True Love
  6901 A I'm Not Turning Back
  6901 B The Old Account Was Settled Long Ago (Other Side by Blue Sky Boys)
  6979 A I Will Meet My Precious Mother
  6979 B Beautiful Stars
  7020 A The School House Fire
  7020 B Darling, Do You Miss Me?
  7152 A Waiting For You
  7152 B Satisfied At Last
  7263 A Are You Sure?
  7263 B What Would You Give In Exchange Part 5
  7374 A I Won't Accept Anything For My Soul
  7374 B Unknown
  7449 A I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray
  7449 B Down With The Old Canoe
  7674 A How Can A Broke Man Be Happy
  7674 B Girl I Left In Danville
  7767 A Have Courage To Only Say No
  7767 B Glorious Light Is Dawning
  7802 A Weaver's Life
  7802 B The Old Home Brew
Montgomery Ward
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4420 B Lonesome Yodel Blues
  4823 A Intoxicated Rat
  4823 B Sales Tax On The Women
  5025 A Greenback Dollar Pt.2
  5025 B Answer To Maple On The Hill (Vpt.1)
  7014 A White Flower For You
  7014 B Maple On The Hill #2
  7015 A Two Little Rosebuds
  7015 B My Girl In Sunny Tennessee
  7024 A Weave Room Blues
  7024 B Spinning Room Blues
  7025 A A Wonderful Day
  7025 B Are You Sure
  7089 A I'm Just Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail
  7089 B Hush Little Bonnie Blue Eyes Pt.2
  7090 A The Old True Love
  7090 B Easter Day
  7170 A Weaver's Life
  7170 B Maple On The Hill #4
  7171 A Darling, Do You Miss Me?
  7171 B Little Bessie
  7172 A Beautiful Stars
  7172 B I Will Meet My Precious Mother
  7173 A Dark Eyes
  7173 B We'll Never Be Sweethearts Again
  7335 A What Would You Give In Exchange Pt.5
  7335 B I Won't Accept Anything For My Soul
  7336 A What Can I Give In Exchange For My Soul
  7336 B Two Little Boys
  7337 A The Lonely Prisoner
  7337 B Girl I Left In Danville
  7489 A I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray
  7489 B Down With The Old Canoe
  7490 A A Mother, A Baby And Father
  7490 B Church At The Foot Of The Hill
  7491 A By Himself
  7491 B Tempted And Tried
  7492 A Glorious Light Is Dawning
  7492 B Have Courage To Only Say No
  7577 A Time For Me To Go
  7577 B After The Ball
  7578 A Jimmie And Sallie
  7578 B Beyond Black Smoke
  7579 A When Gabriel's Trumpet Blows For Me
  7579 B Speak Evil Of No Man
  7580 A The Light Of Homer Rogers
  7580 B Story Of George Collins
  7854 A The School House Fire
  7854 B How Can A Broke Man Be Happy
  7855 A She Tickles Me
  7855 B Fisherman's Luck
  7857 A Not Turning Backward
  7857 B The Old Home Brew
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  94677 A Intoxicated Rat
  94677 B Chittlin' Cookin' Time

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